Uganda

UNICEF helps street children back to their home regions and into education in Uganda

The Day of the African Child has been marked on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was initiated by the Organization of African Unity. Here is one in a series of related stories.

By Anne Lydia Sekandi

KARAMOJA, Uganda, 15 June 2011 – John-Bosco Odoto is a happy 15-year old who attends Pilas Primary School, Napak District, in Uganda’s north-eastern Karamoja region. He enjoys his studies, making friends and playing football, like any typical primary school boy. But underneath this pleasant picture lies a sad chapter he is determined to put behind him – life as a street child.

VIDEO: 14 June 2011 - UNICEF's Dheepa Pandian reports on a UNICEF programme that helps street children begin new lives in Uganda.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

John-Bosco left his home in Karamoja in 2005 and ended up on the streets of the capital, Kampala, after losing both his parents.  He could not go to school since there was no one to pay his school fees.

When his uncle suggested that he go with him to Kampala to work and raise money for school fees, John-Bosco left Karamoja readily, only to realise life was about to get much worse.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
In Uganda, an estimated 10,000 street children beg and live in filthy conditions in urban areas, particulary in the capital, Kampala.

“I had to borrow money from taxi drivers to buy food, and slept on the floor of a woman’s house at night,” he says.  “Life in Kampala was very hard because some people always beat us up whenever we went out onto the streets to beg for money.”
 
Child trafficking

Uganda has an estimated 10,000 street children, many of whom, like John-Bosco, come from Napak District in Karamoja.  Most are forced to migrate as a result of insecurity and harsh climatic conditions that have caused drought, poverty and food insecurity in the region. 

There is also evidence that children are sometimes lured out of Karamoja by their peers, or by individuals promising better opportunities in traps that, in effect, constitute trafficking.

UNICEF Representative in Uganda Sharad Sapra says UNICEF and partners are using a two-pronged approach to help the government tackle the migration of children from Karamoja to different urban centres.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
UNICEF is supporting projects to address the causes of children in Uganda migrating towards urban areas, and ensure they receive an education.

They are supporting families to increase their incomes in order to improve their livelihood and keep children in school. Children who receive an education will then be more equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to have a good future.

“Most of the issues pushing children out of Karamoja relate to economic migration, which is why UNICEF supports Uganda government programmes such as microfinance, agriculture and other projects that will encourage people and communities to engage in activities that boost their incomes and improve their lives, instead of sending their children to the city,” says Mr. Sapra.

He adds that UNICEF is also taking advantage of Uganda’s nationwide connectivity to promote tools that children all over the country, including those in the most remote parts, can use to access information and gain knowledge and skills.

Technology initiatives

“We hope to work with partners in the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society to scale up these initiatives all over the country, even in Karamoja, so that children can access technology wherever they are, which also reduces the attraction of outmigration,” says Mr. Sapra.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
UNICEF, in partnership with non-governmental organization BRAC, has installed the first ever solar-powered computer kiosk in Karamoja, Uganda, where youth can learn how to use computers and access life skills material.

For John-Bosco, things turned around for the better in 2007, when he left the capital’s streets along with dozens of other children and women, and was brought back to Karamoja.  Their first stop was the Kobulin Transit Centre in Moroto, where they were screened, given a medical check-up, dewormed and later reunited with their families.

After being reunited with his relatives, John-Bosco returned to school where he is now an active member of the football team.  He says he is happy to be back at school and is looking forward to a brighter future in Karamoja.


 

 

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